KATHMANDU- Nepal's leaders failed Sunday to agree on a new post-war constitution ahead of a midnight deadline, forcing the dissolution of parliament and plunging the nation into a political crisis.

The Constituent Assembly, elected in 2008 after a decade of civil war to write the statute, will be disbanded after failing to resolve disagreements on the creation of federal states, said Maoist chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal. "We could not reach an agreement despite several meetings. So the possibility of promulgating the constitution has ended," he said. "We could not save the Constituent Assembly. We are holding discussions with senior party leaders on how to move ahead." The cabinet was meeting as midnight approached to decide whether to declare a state of emergency, which would allow parliament to be extended for six months, call fresh elections or take some other course of action.

Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai, who leads a national unity government made up of the country's four major parties, was due to address the nation over the crisis after the talks. Thousands of people from various ethnic and political groups had gathered near the assembly on a day of tense negotiations, waving flags and chanting slogans, with security forces preventing the crowd from getting too close.

Several protesters tried to get through a security cordon and clashed with police who fired tear gas shells, but there were no serious injuries. The army was on alert nationwide and ready to prevent any outbreak of violence if the police became overwhelmed, the Rajdhani daily newspaper said.

The new constitution was intended to create a new secular, democratic republic following the abolition of Nepal's centuries-old Hindu monarchy after the Maoist rebels gave up arms and won the 2008 elections.

It was also meant to bring stability to the impoverished Himalayan nation and unite its more than 100 ethnic minorities in a country traumatised by the deaths of 16,000 people in the 1996-2006 civil war. But while the Maoists want the creation of up to 14 states named after ethnic groups, their rivals say dividing Nepal along ethnic lines will fuel unrest.

Meanwhile, Nepal’s premier called a Nov 22 election Monday after the nation’s political leaders failed to agree on a post-war constitution before midnight, forcing the dissolution of parliament. The Constituent Assembly, elected in 2008 after a decade of civil war to write the statute, will be disbanded after failing to resolve disagreements on the creation of federal states, Baburam Bhattarai said in a televised address.